Mission & History

Construction of the Annenberg School for Communication building, circa 1962.


In 1958, publisher, diplomat, and philanthropist Walter Annenberg founded the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania with these words:

“Every human advancement or reversal can be understood through communication. The right to free communication carries with it responsibility to respect the dignity of others – and this must be recognized as irreversible. Educating students to effectively communicate this message and to be of service to all people is the enduring mission of this school.”

Over the ensuing years the Annenberg School has remained true to the mission articulated by Ambassador Annenberg, while responding to changes in both the nature of communication as a social process and in Communication as a discipline and an interdisciplinary field of study. Today, we advance our mission through four central goals:

  • Producing and disseminating cutting-edge scholarly research designed to advance our theoretical and empirical understanding of the role of communication in public and private life.
  • Producing and disseminating high-quality applied research designed to advance the public’s understanding and effective use of communication, and policy-makers’ ability to create a media environment that fosters the personal and collective development of its citizens.
  • Educating Ph.D. graduate students in the theories, substance, and methods of communication research and placing them in leading academic and professional positions in the field.
  • Providing a first-class liberal arts education to undergraduates, designed to help them become better consumers and producers of public information, strengthen their understanding of the role of communication in their personal, professional and civic lives, and prepare them for private and public-sector leadership positions in communication-related and other fields.

A Brief History

Former Dean Gilbert Seldes at Annenberg School for Communication ASC UPenn
Dean Gilbert Seldes

Initially a Master’s degree-only program, the first students were admitted in the fall of 1959 and graduated in the Spring of 1960. Under the leadership of Dean Gilbert Seldes (1959-1963) and drawing on faculty from a range of disciplinary backgrounds in the humanities, social sciences, and communication professions, the program was designed for “young men and women who wished to prepare themselves for a career in one or another of the mass media.”

George Gerbner and the cultural indicators team at Annenberg School for Communication ASC UPenn
Dean George Gerbner, foreground, and the research team from the Cultural Indicators project.

Upon his arrival in fall 1964, new dean George Gerbner (1964-1989) began to transform the graduate program, giving it the more scholarly orientation that characterizes it today. Under his leadership, the Annenberg School was among the first Communication programs in the country to move away from the traditional focus on a specific medium of communication (e.g., speech, print, radio-television, film) or professional training (e.g., communication science and disorders, journalism) towards an emphasis on theory and research regarding the social and institutional aspects of communication. During this period the Annenberg School was instrumental in the development of an integrated discipline of Communication, including involvement in the International Communication Association (emerging out of the National Society for the Study of Communication in 1969) and the Journal of Communication (which was housed at the Annenberg School and edited by Gerbner from 1974 to 1991). At the same time, Dean Gerbner remained cognizant of the interdisciplinary nature of communication as a practice and as a subject of study.

Kathleen Hall Jamieson on television circa 1992 at Annenberg School for Communication ASC UPenn
Dean Kathleen Hall Jamieson, left, in 1999.

In the fall of 1968 the Annenberg School introduced a Ph.D. program in Communication. In the mid 1970's the University of Pennsylvania introduced an undergraduate major in Communication through its College of Arts and Sciences, selecting the Annenberg School to design, staff, and administer all aspects of the major’s curricular and co-curricular structure. Under the leadership of Dean Kathleen Hall Jamieson (1989-2003) the Annenbergs established the school’s core and supporting endowments, providing the financial resources necessary to secure the School’s long-term stability, and the Annenberg faculty made several significant revisions to the graduate program, including suspending the Masters of Communication program and moving to the direct admission of students into the Ph.D. program.

Michael X Delli Carpini and student at Annenberg School for Communication ASC UPenn
Dean Michael X. Delli Carpini, right, meeting with a student.

Under Dean Michael X. Delli Carpini (2003–2018), the school’s academic expertise expanded with the growth in the number of full-time faculty (from 16 to 24) in research areas related to institutions, globalization, health, and the digital environment, which has been instrumental in keeping the school oriented toward the evolving horizons of the field’s knowledge base. The addition of focused academic centers, projects, and labs — such as the Center for Advanced Research in Global Communication, the Center for Media at Risk, the Communication Neuroscience Lab, and the Network Dynamics Group — reflects Annenberg’s evolving sources of expertise.​

John L. Jackson, Jr. became Walter H. Annenberg Dean of the Annenberg School on January 1, 2019 and has been hard at work creating and growing new centers such as the Center on Digital Culture and Society and the Media Inequality and Change Center (a collaboration with Rutgers University). He is also building connections with the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. Under his leadership, the school has further embraced multimodal scholarship, encouraging a broader definition for academic scholarship that is inclusive of video, audio, and other multimedia formats. One way the school is doing this is through the Center for Experimental Ethnography and CAMRA

Dean John L. Jackson, Jr.

The Annenberg School remains committed to both its interdisciplinary and disciplinary roots and maintains its reputation as the premier Communication program for research, teaching, and service in the world.